A tale of encouragement (and a bird funeral) from a working mom during COVID
In late February this year, I started a new job as a Customer Success Lead at Leaf Logistics in New York City. I was excited, nervous, and bursting with energy to learn a new industry and build a kick-ass team. Two weeks later, the pandemic hit NYC--hard. Schools and office buildings closed and suddenly, it felt very much like a real-life zombie apocalypse was happening.
In a moment of pure panic, I packed suitcases, gathered my husband and kids into the car, and relocated to our family’s home in the Catskill Mountains. My irrational inner voice reasoned that if the worst happened and food became scarce, we could fish from streams and hunt game. My rational self knew full well that I couldn’t even kill mosquitoes because they may have mosquito babies...and their bug babies would then be orphans.
Seemingly overnight, my whole world, the whole world changed. Everything felt unknown. How would we manage full-time jobs, let alone my new one at Leaf? How are my seven and ten-year-old boys going to learn anything on Zoom? Did I pack enough underwear for the boys? Are we going to die? What happens if I run out of vodka?
Two months later, still living upstate, we started to figure out our family’s “new abnormal.” I gave up, after several failed attempts, enforcing my color-coded online learning and chore schedules aimed at keeping us in militaristic familial precision. I learned not to care when I was the only one in the house wearing pants. Microwave mac and cheese was determined to be “healthy enough” for lunch, and I definitely didn’t attempt to make sourdough.
Actual photo of my futile attempt at a schedule for one of my kids
While far from perfect, we found our rhythm, and I kept myself mentally challenged in my role at Leaf. Helping ensure efficient supply chains felt really important, both professionally and personally. Our CEO, Anshu Prasad, and others from our team even leveraged our network to hand-deliver masks to embattled hospitals and healthcare workers in the New York metropolitan area. I was both proud of our societal efforts and that Leaf was contributing to solving supply chain issues through our innovation.
The Leaf Team, in partnership with Masks for America delivering masks to hospitals
One day Anshu spoke to us about planning our next quarterly Leaf Members Meeting where we bring together customers and experts to discuss relevant and timely topics impacting our industry. I was excited, as it would be my first time involved in the event. During the planning session, Anshu asked me to moderate a panel.
More specifically (yet significantly edited for brevity), he said, “I’d like you to moderate a panel on the topic of ‘Covid’s impact on building an anti-fragile supply chain. We’ll be interviewing experts from the industry who will give their perspective.’"
I said to myself (again, significantly edited for brevity and minus the expletives): “You will embarrass yourself by talking about a topic you barely know about to brilliant people who know everything about the subject.”
I all but begged Anshu to let me out of it. My rationale--I didn’t want to reflect poorly on him or Leaf given my limited experience in supply chain and even more limited experience in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's “Antifragility” economic theory. To his credit, Anshu didn’t give in, and I spent the next two weeks doing some heavy research and brushing up on my interview skills.
The day of the meeting came, and I was excited. I felt energized by my newfound knowledge of economic theory and ready to engage with our panel of three fantastic industry experts. We had more than fifty attendees registered. I even put on makeup and wore something other than yoga pants that day. I was ready.
The universe happened to choose that moment for my world of working from home and my world of being a mom of young boys, to collide. Just as Anshu was introducing my panelists and me, I heard a loud BANG.
My husband Daniel texted me from downstairs: “a bird just hit the big glass window in the living room. It’s not looking good for the bird, Ethan (our seven year old) is upset.” It’s ok, I thought to myself, Daniel’s got this, stay focused on your panel.
Five minutes later, as I was wrapping up my introduction to the topic, I got the following text: “The bird didn’t make it--we are burying it in the backyard.”
While fighting the guilt of not being there to comfort my son, I tried to stay focused, stay on topic, and make sure I was asking thought-provoking questions, “So, given that answer, what do you think shippers need to do to be more resilient?…”
Ten minutes later, while the panel discussion was in full swing, I heard soft sobbing from Ethan. I received the following panicked text from my husband: “Ethan has dug up the bird from its grave and is walking around outside, crying and petting it...he named it Mr. Flappy. The irony of that name is not lost on me. What do I do?”
Multi-tasking, I texted back, “Why don’t you try distracting him by letting him ride his new bike around the driveway?” It worked; I was super-mom. Ethan re-buried “Mr. Flappy,” put on his helmet, and was happily taking his shiny new red bike for a spin.
Meanwhile, on the panel, I heard an out-of-body version of myself saying something along the lines of: “That’s a really interesting perspective Mr. X, Mr. Y, do you have a response to that?”
Five minutes later, I heard a crash, followed by loud crying this time. I got another text: “Ethan crashed his bike, and is bleeding from his knees and elbows. I’m cleaning him up and am going to let him watch tv.”
I responded simply: “Good idea.”
Guilt, guilt, guilt. You should be there for your son. What the hell are you doing?
Five minutes after that, Ethan came into the room where I was conducting the panel on Zoom. He was bandaged, dirty, and only wearing his Batman underwear. He said he didn’t want to be alone, he wanted to be with me, and I let him. Luckily, the camera was at an angle where he couldn’t be seen, and the fifty people on the panel couldn’t silently judge me for being a crappy parent.
The panel discussion wound down. I was soaked in a cold sweat. What just happened? Was it good? Did the audience see through me and know I was a) far from an industry expert and b) severely lacking in parenting skills?
Based on what I heard from those who attended, by all measures, the panel discussion actually went pretty well. The conversation was productive and insightful, and no one was wiser to the fact that chaos reigned in the background.
That night I had a stiff drink, a good cry, and a sweet conversation with Ethan about his stressful day. He said, “You know mom, today was a bad day, but we all have bad days, don’t we? And on the bright side, I gave Mr. Flappy a good sendoff. I know tomorrow will be better.”
Maybe I’m not so crappy at this parenting stuff after all, and perhaps I am not a total imposter at work.
A mentor of mine once told me when torn about some mixed emotions I was experiencing, “You know Melissa, it doesn’t have to be ‘or,’ it’s often ‘and.’ We can be a good parent and a successful working mom. We can hold feelings of guilt and annoyance at the same time. We can feel scared and excited simultaneously. It’s not either/or, it’s ok to live in a world of ‘and.’”
To all you working moms out there, I am not telling this story for any other reason than to give you some sense of reassurance when it feels like things are melting down around you. We’re in the middle of a f*ing pandemic. This isn’t easy. Things are happening and will continue to happen, and we can’t control them. Be kind to yourself. Try not to give in to that inner voice that tells you that you can’t, that you aren’t strong enough. You are strong and you can do this.
Dedicated to “Mr. Flappy" - RIP, Born: ? Died: May 19, 2020
Also dedicated to Nate and Ethan, who constantly keep me on my toes…